First Sunday in Advent A
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.
The sermon began by telling part of Angelina Nadai Lohalith’s story. Angelina’s story was featured in Living Lutheran magazine’s November 2016 (see the article “Seeing Jesus in the face of the other”. An Olympic athlete, she is a refugee from South Sudan who grew up in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Her ultimate goal, she says, is to go home.
“But the ultimate goal is to go home.”
And still, they are told to wait.
Waiting is not always easy. As a kid, I had to wait until everyone was up on Christmas morning, dressed, downstairs, and after Dad made his first cup of coffee before I could open any Christmas gifts, but that’s nothing compared to waiting decades to go home.
The community for which the Gospel according to Matthew was written was no stranger to waiting, either. If you remember, Jesus’s death and resurrection is usually dated to around the year 33 CE. Before his Ascension, he promised he would return someday. And so the new fledgling community of faith waited and waited for the Messiah to return.
15 years later, Paul began in his missionary journeys after a decade spent figuring out what to do with this new call he had from God. Paul spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the Roman world, concentrating on the population centers to reach as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. By the time he wrote his letter to the Romans, he was coming upon the end of his work and life sometime in the early 60s CE. The writer of the Gospel according to Mark was just beginning to put his story together.
And during that time, Jesus didn’t come. They were told to wait.
By the time the writers of the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke are being written, it’s now in the 80s CE. Fifty years have passed since Jesus promised to return, and still they are waiting. It’s entirely possible, likely even, that many in the community reading and hearing the Gospel according to Matthew aren’t even waiting anymore.
After all, what do they have to look forward to? 20 years prior, after Paul died, the Judeans revolted against the Roman Empire and learned just how brutal the Romans could be when putting down a rebellion. The temple in Jerusalem, the holy center of Judaism and the lives of the Jewish people was razed to the ground, erased from the landscape. The faint glimmer of hope that the rebellion had brought was smothered in an instant. They were crushed, and for the new community of Christians, the return of Christ seemed like their only option.
They waited, and waited, and waited, and Christ never came back in their lifetimes.
2000 years later, we are still waiting. I can only imagine what it is like for South Sudanese and all refugees to wait for decades for the slight chance to return home. So to ask a community of generations to wait for over 2000 years for an event that, historically, hasn’t happened in any of our lifetimes, seems… unreasonable. And still, we are told to wait, to keep watch.
It’s not that we don’t desperately need what we’re waiting for. Not at all. Every generation since the time of Christ has looked at the world they live in and said, “Christ, if ever there was a time when you needed to come back, it was now.” Take a look at some of our contemporary examples. We live in a country that is increasingly fractured, where we attack and kill each other for being different. What we thought were “old sins”–racism, sexism, homophobia—are alive and well, fresh again.
Across the world, wars rage in places that haven’t known peace in decades. Natural disasters continue to plague the poorest and most vulnerable populations. It’s ugly. Christ is needed just as much now as ever. To have some sign that the suffering was going to end…
And still, we are told to wait.
I don’t blame the Christian community reading the Gospel according to Matthew for doubting that Christ would ever return. I don’t blame the members of that community if they grew so weary of waiting that they simply walked away.
Jesus himself doesn’t help the situation too much. His return, as he describes it, will be as swift and unanticipated as the flood was, which came when no one was prepared. Like a thief in the night, stalking in unawares, he return will surprise and astonish.
And still, we are told to wait.
But some things are worth waiting for.